W3 Total Cache VS WP Rocket 2020

Authored By: James LePage
Published On: July 3, 2020

ℹ There's currently a 25% off promo over at WP Rocket for their 7th anniversary.

In this blog post we're going to be comparing the two leading caching plugins, one being W3 Total Cache which is free from the WordPress repository, and one being WP Rocket which is a premium solution. We've seen a lot of questions about the two plugins, typically going something like this:

Is spending $49.00 on WP Rocket worth it, or can I make do with a free solution from the WordPress plugin repository?

In this article we are going to be comparing the two plugins, from usability, to user interface design, to statistical performance comparisons. From that, will try to make a determination as to which plug-in is the best option for you. Keep in mind, that if we can help it, spending $0.00 compared to $49.00 is always the better option.

With that point in mind, that means that WP Rocket will need to prove its worth compared to the free W3 Cache. In the spirit of disclosure, we use WP Rocket on all of our websites, and install it on client websites as part of our SpeedOpp service.

WP Rocket Vs W3 Total Cache

The Features Offered

W3 Total Cache

W3 Self identifies as a complete performance framework. They state that they don't just offer caching, but every other performance optimization setting that you may require to score high on PageSpeed And maintain an extremely low page loading time.

“The options are many and setup is easy.”

WP Rocket

WP Rocket also says that it's not just a caching plugin, but it's an all-in-one performance optimization tool. However, their main selling point is the simplicity and ease of use of their product.

“Recognized as the most powerful caching plugin by WordPress experts.”

Features Table

So it looks like both of these plugins are billing themselves as something more than just caching; instead offering a complete performance optimization suite of features. In this section, we're going to create a features table that compares the two plugins, and all of the features that they offer. This will act as a sort of Venn diagram, showing you where their features overlap, and where the plugins differentiate themselves.

 W3 Total CacheWP Rocket
Page CachingYesYes
Cache PreloadingYesYes
Static Files CompressionYesYes
Image & Asset LazyloadingYesYes
Minification / ConcatenationYesYes
CDNYesYes
DNS PrefetchingNoYes
Database OptimizationNoYes
Fonts OptimizationNoYes
Defer JavaScriptNoYes

You can see that there's some overlap between the features, but the premium plugin WP Rocket offers a couple more features that W3 does not. these features can be added with additional third party plugins, but it's always good to keep the number of plugins you have running on your WordPress website down.

We're going to get into the individual plugins and features in a few minutes, but first let's take a look at the pricing structure of each plugin. A major differentiator between these two is the fact that one is free and one is premium, and as we stated in the beginning of this article, it's up to WP Rocket to prove its worth (if possible) to consumers.

The Pricing

WP Total Cache Pricing

In relation to the features, let's take a look at the pricing. First up, W3 total cache.

This is free and instantly installable from the WordPress plugin repository. You can get yourself a copy here:

As you can see, this is a wildly popular plugin with over 4000 reviews averaging at 4.4 out of 5. The plugin is installed on 1,000,000+ individual websites.

It's worth noting that they offer a paid version for $99 per year. With this, you get three additional features which include Caching Statistics, Fragment Caching and Full Site Delivery. These features are fairly advanced and not commonly demanded, which is why we will be testing the free version of this plugin.

Typically, free plugins are locking great support. It doesn't look to be the case in this situation, as almost 100% of all support requests on the free plugin repository were resolved in the past month. We checked out the questions and answers in the forum, and the development team behind this plugin is extremely knowledgeable and helpful in this case. So, if you need support, this plugin has it.

(The GitHub repo also shows that they are fairly responsive to developer level suggestions and questions: https://github.com/W3EDGE/w3-total-cache/issues)

Because W3 total cache Is a free solution, this instantly means that the pricing swings in its favor. However, we will be determining in later sections of this comparison If it's worth not paying for specific features and additional aspects, or if WP rocket has more value.

WP Rocket Pricing

Now let's take a look at WP Rocket. This is a paid plugin, and the cheapest plan is $49.00 per year for a single license. For a 3 website license, you can pay $99 per year, and for an unlimited website license you can pay $249 per year. (our company has an unlimited license, and installs WP Rocket in all of the websites that we run the SpeedOpp service on. it could end up saving you money, so it may be worth checking out).

The pricing falls into the range of most other paid plugins - somewhere between $30 and $50.00 for a single license.

Also, keep in mind that the pricing tiers only relate to the number of websites that you can install the plugin on. You don't pay more for more features, every plan has the same features.

Having worked first hand with the support from this company, we can say that it is extremely timely, relevant, and helpful. They've answered all of our questions from basic setup inquiries to complicated PHP ideas.

The company also offers a 14 day money back guarantee. This allows you to try the solution out risk free, and if it doesn't work with your website for any reason (or if you don't like it) you can get a full refund.

Because WP Rocket is a paid plugin, and it's being compared to one of the more popular free caching solutions out there, it's up to them to prove their value. Well on paper, they may be a more expensive option, they very well could end up saving you a lot of time (time=money), making them much more valuable. when looking at any solution out there, we tried to analyze it from a value standpoint, not a cost standpoint.

For the remainder of this article, we will be comparing each individual plugin By first taking a look at all of the features, and user interface separately, and then coming together and looking at W3 Total Cache VS WP Rocket head-to-head.

From that comparison, we're going to try to figure out which solution Offers the end consumer more value, and which one should get your download.

TLDR; W3 Total Cache is free while WP Rocket costs $49.00.

By now we should have a good understanding of the differences in pricing, and general features of the two plugins. For the next part of our W3 Total Cache VS WP Rocket head-to-head comparison, we're going to take a look at each individual plugin and test it for usability, features, and statistical speed improvements. From each individual review, will be able to identify the pros and cons of each and compare them properly. By the end of this article, you should have a good idea of which plugin (W3 Total Cache or WP Rocket) offers you the most value.

The Test Environment

To accurately compare the two leading caching plugins, we created an environment to install them on. The test environment was a one page WordPress website built with the Elementor Pro page builder.

We chose Elementor Pro to build the website as it is a leading page building plugin, which is also extremely bloated. The bloat that this plugin comes with should provide some meat for both of the caching plugins to latch onto and optimize fully for speed.

The one page, which was the website homepage, was loaded from a free Envato Elements Template. The only plugins running on the website were Elementor and Elementor Pro. The only theme active and installed on the website was Hello Elementor.

The template that we chose offers a blend of images, text, buttons, Elementor form elements and animations.

The WordPress installation was hosted on two different hosting providers to offer a better selection of data. The first host was budget shared hosting from Bluehost. This type of hosting is known to be extremely slow, though many WordPress consumers host their websites on it.

By including data from this type of host, we are able to cover the most popular style of hosting, shared hosting (the cheapest plans from Bluehost, GoDaddy, Hostgator…).

The second hosting provider was high powered cloud hosting from Cloudways. The underlying cloud host was Digital Ocean, and our installation had 1 GB of dedicated ram, as well as one VCPU, and 25 gigabytes of SSD storage. This is the recommended environment that every WordPress website should be hosted in, and offers data that shows what the loading of the website would be like if offered all of the resources required. (For 30% off your first month of hosting with Cloudways, you can use the code “Isotropic”).

The website was developed locally on one of our agency laptops, and then installed in both WordPress hosting installations using the All-In-One WP migrate plugin.

To summarize the two hosting choices, our first host is Bluehost which offers insight into a standard hosting setup, while our second host is Cloudways which offers insight into high powered hosting (which in theory should result in a quicker loading time due to the proper allocation of resources, and quicker hardware).

We did not change the default settings for WordPress or PHP (both are running 7.4) that came with each host.

We've set up a sub domain to access each of the website installations. The DNS is managed through Cloudflare, though no additional features of the CDN are activated for this test (This should give us a clearer picture of the impact that each plugin has on the website).

Here are the two domains (though each domain probably isn't working at the time of this publication):

  • bluehost-cachetest-wprvw3.my-cool-biz-site-123.com
  • cloudways-cachetest-wprvw3.my-cool-biz-site-123.com

For speed testing, we used three separate testing providers. The first testing provider is Google PageSpeed insights, which is commonly used across the industry to gain insight into the loading time of a web page. The second testing provider is GTMetrix which offers waterfall charts and more in depth metrics. The third testing platform is FastOrSlow, which gives us geographical context into loading times.

So for each caching plugin, we are going to be running a total of 6 tests. Two different hosting providers, and three different testing platforms. Hopefully, that will give us insight into the real world impact that both of these caching plugins will have on your website, and give us good, accurate data to compare the two.

Each report will be downloaded as HTML, and then uploaded into this article, and we will offer a full HTML visualization of the testing website.

Now, we're going to run the base website page through each of the three testing providers on the two hosts, and give you the benchmark data here (The numbers here are for the desktop version of the website, though you can view the mobile numbers by clicking on the HTML downloads of the reports).

 Fast Or SlowGTMetrixPageSpeed Insights
Bluehost Installation (No Caching Plugin)First Meaningful Paint: 10.8s First CPU Idle: 10.99sFully Loaded Time: 3.6s Requests: 55 Total Page Size: 4.58MBSpeed Index: 5.5s Time To Interactive: 2.6s
Cloudways Installation (No Caching Plugin)First Meaningful Paint: 1.81s First CPU Idle: 2.01sFully Loaded Time: 2.9s Requests: 57 Total Page Size: 4.50MBSpeed Index: 2.3s Time To Interactive: 2.5s

The major takeaway here is that the hosting really does matter. Using a premium host automatically gives you a speed benefit, compared to a budget host. This is why our agency hosts all of our websites through Cloudways on Digital Ocean. Also, keep in mind that this is a single page website that is fairly simple. As the website grows in complexity, the negative impact of a subpar host becomes more and more prominent.

For all of the numbers in this report: these numbers are specific to our test website. They're just designed to show you how (in a semi controlled environment) each individual caching plugin impacts the overall load time. These are not numbers that you will necessarily be achieving yourself, they're just here to show you some statistical differences.

Now we're going to install each individual plugin and take a look at the features, ease of use, and statistics. We will use the information that we find in these two sections to compare W3 total cache and WP Rocket. if you're uninterested in the individual reviews, and just want to get to the comparison between the two plugins, feel free to use the table of contents to skip around.

W3 Total Cache: An In Depth Look

First up on our list is the free W3 Total Cache plugin. Let's get right into it.

Setup & Features

the plugin installation went very smoothly. all you need to do is search for the plugin on the WordPress repository, click the install button, and then activate it.

Upon installation, we are greeted with a dashboard that offers us a couple of upsells. To configure the plugin, we're simply going to run down each menu item and enable the settings that we know will impact the loading and speed of our website.

The first menu item is general settings. Under general settings, we enable the page cache, and set the method as disk: enhanced. We enable lazy loading, turn on both database and object cache, And enable automatic minification of JavaScript, CSS and HTML.

For the general settings section, if we could turn it on and enable it, we did.

Under the page cache sub page, we enabled preloading. Other than that, we left all of the other settings in their default form. It looks like when we enabled things on the general setting section, several sub settings on the sub pages were recursively enabled.

If you would like to recreate the settings that we used in this cache setup, you can easily import then via this JSON file:

The main features that were turned on and configured with this plugin include:

  • (Preloaded) Caching
    • Page level
    • Browser level
    • Database level
    • Object level
    • Fragment
  • Minify
  • Lazyload

Keep in mind that we only spent about 20 minutes installing and configuring this caching plugin, which means that there is definitely room for improvement when it comes to the configuration.

Ease Of Use

This plugin has many individual features that allow you to fine tune every aspect of caching and optimization on your WordPress website. It's obvious that it is very powerful, and if you know what you're doing and are familiar with the settings that it has to offer, you can customize it to match your needs exactly.

At the same time, this plugin doesn't do a great job of making these features accessible to an average user. Here's a screenshot from a Section of the settings that can be found on the sub page titled “Browser Cache”. As you can see, it's pretty complex, and even with the descriptions below the input fields, you definitely need to have a good idea of what you're doing to make use of these settings.

Once you install the plugin, you have access to the settings, but there's no tutorial or walkthrough included in the installation. You're pretty much on your own from the second you install the plugin. The general settings page is fairly simple to comprehend. All you need to do is check off checkboxes, and settings/caching will become active. However, even on the general settings which is a page designed to be as simple and easy to use as possible, you get access to a ton of individual elements that you can tweak. This can be confusing if you don't know what you're doing.


Because of that, the ease of use for this plugin isn't great. We give it a 3 out of 10. At the same time, the plugin offers a ton of advanced features.

This plugin is definitely not a set and forget type operation, instead you will need to spend some time learning about the features it has to offer to effectively incorporate it into your WordPress website. Luckily, due to its popularity there is a ton of information out there, you just need to go ahead and run through it.

Statistics

After completely configuring the plugin (Which involved us checking off/enabling pretty much all of the settings on the “general settings page”), we ran the website through the three different speed test providers. (The settings were exactly the same between the two hosting installations). Here are the statistics for the W3 Total Cache compared to the benchmark that we took above.

These are the statistics for the two website installations with W3 Total Cache:

 Fast Or SlowGTMetrixPageSpeed Insights
Bluehost Installation (W3 Total Cache)First Meaningful Paint: 16.23s First CPU Idle: 16.29sFully Loaded Time: 3.3s Requests: 24 Total Page Size: 4.34MBSpeed Index: 3.3s Time To Interactive: 1.5s
Cloudways Installation (W3 Total Cache)First Meaningful Paint: 1.87s First CPU Idle: 2.13sFully Loaded Time: 2.3s Requests: 26 Total Page Size: 4.27MBSpeed Index: 1.9s Time To Interactive: 1.5s

And for comparison purposes, these are the benchmark statistics copied from the above section:

 Fast Or SlowGTMetrixPageSpeed Insights
Bluehost Installation (No Caching Plugin)First Meaningful Paint: 10.8s First CPU Idle: 10.99sFully Loaded Time: 3.6s Requests: 55 Total Page Size: 4.58MBSpeed Index: 5.5s Time To Interactive: 2.6s
Cloudways Installation (No Caching Plugin)First Meaningful Paint: 1.81s First CPU Idle: 2.01sFully Loaded Time: 2.9s Requests: 57 Total Page Size: 4.50MBSpeed Index: 2.3s Time To Interactive: 2.5s

First off, you can see that the installation and configuration of this plugin definitely made a positive impact in the loading time of our website. By reducing the number of requests and total page size, our page loaded much quicker. (Speed Index: Bluehost fell from 4.9 to 3.0).

These statistics should just be used for comparison purposes. The website and the settings for the plugin are both standard, and the only difference is the hosting. This plugin could have definitely been optimized (manually) to make better use of the resources that the higher powered Cloudways hosting has to offer, though this was not done in this comparison.

WP Rocket: An In Depth Look

Now it's time to take a look at the premium solution, WP rocket. We're going to run this same analysis that we did for W3, and then do an in depth comparison of the two.

Setup & Features

Once we installed WP rocket, we were notified that caching was automatically activated and running on the website.

The first thing we did was preload everything. After pre loading, we ran through each subpage of the plugin an enabled everything that could be enabled.

We minified HTML, and minified and combined JavaScript and CSS. We optimized the delivery of scripts, and loaded JavaScript deferred.

Under media optimization, we turned on lazy loading (which applied to images as well as iframes and embeds) and disabled emojis.

Preloading was automatically optimized and enabled, but we had the option to preload fonts, so we found the font files that needed to be preloaded using Google PageSpeed, and added them to the input field.

This was not a feature that W3 had to offer.

After running through the entire optimization settings, these are the main things that we enabled:

  • Caching
  • Cache Preloading
  • Font Preloading
  • Lazyload
  • Disable Emojis
  • Merge, Minify & Defer

We actually ended up enabling more options on WP Rocket, simply because it had more to offer.

If you'd like to see the complete settings, you can import this file into your WP Rocket plugin, which will load the settings that we had enabled.

Ease Of Use

From the screenshots, you can see that this plugin is very easy to use. The user interface is better designed than W3, which is a bit more cluttered.

We enabled specific features by checking a box. On several occasions, we were presented with warnings that this could actually break our website, which was very helpful and well integrated into the plugin.

We rate the ease of use on this plugin a 9 out of 10, because all you need to do is run through every page and check off every box. We noticed that every time we activated something and a cache was preloaded (or something else automatically occurred), we were presented with a notification in the top of our WordPress installation stating what exactly happened.

Statistics

After activating all the features that WP rocket had to offer, we ran the same three tests (on the two different hosting installations). Here are the loading statistics for our WP rocket optimized website:

 Fast Or SlowGTMetrixPageSpeed Insights
Bluehost Installation (WP Rocket)First Meaningful Paint: 2.07s First CPU Idle: 2.44sFully Loaded Time: 2.4s Requests: 20 Total Page Size: 4.34MBSpeed Index: 1.7s Time To Interactive: 2.5s
Cloudways Installation (WP Rocket)First Meaningful Paint: 1.97s First CPU Idle: 2.19sFully Loaded Time: 2.6s Requests: 20 Total Page Size: 4.24MBSpeed Index: 2.0s Time To Interactive: 2.4s

And for comparison purposes, these are the benchmark statistics copied from the above section:

 Fast Or SlowGTMetrixPageSpeed Insights
Bluehost Installation (No Caching Plugin)First Meaningful Paint: 10.8s First CPU Idle: 10.99sFully Loaded Time: 3.6s Requests: 55 Total Page Size: 4.58MBSpeed Index: 5.5s Time To Interactive: 2.6s
Cloudways Installation (No Caching Plugin)First Meaningful Paint: 1.81s First CPU Idle: 2.01sFully Loaded Time: 2.9s Requests: 57 Total Page Size: 4.50MBSpeed Index: 2.3s Time To Interactive: 2.5s

Unsurprisingly, WP rocket also had a beneficial impact on the loading time of our WordPress website.

Remember, these statistics should just be used for comparison purposes between the two plugins, and a non optimized WordPress website. These may or may not be similar to the results that you could attain from any of these plugins.

Now, let's take a look at both of the plugins side-by-side, and identify which one is better and offers more value.

W3 Total Cache VS WP Rocket: A Comparison

By now you should understand the strengths and weaknesses that each plugin brings to the table. Now let's compare W3 Total Cache VS WP Rocket and come to a conclusion as to which plug-in offers the best value to consumers.

The HTML download of each report:

WP Rocket

PageSpeed

GTMetrix

FastOrSlow

W3 Total Cache

PageSpeed

GTMetrix

FastOrSlow

When it comes to ease of use, WP Rocket is the clear winner. It offers more features than W3, but the interface to enable each feature is much easier and simpler. This not only saves you time when configuring the plugin, it allows you to access more advanced features without actually needing to know many underlying concepts or best practices.

Both plugins follow a “check this setting on or off” design, and on the surface W3 offers many more Individual input fields. At the same time, WP rocket actually offers more features, but presents them in a cleaner and easier to understand way.

While we were able to cash and optimize with both plugins, WP rocket allowed us to preload fonts, merge and minify CSS JavaScript and HTML, disable emojis, and complete a couple other tasks that simply were impossible with W3.

These statistics that we gathered from the three individual reporting tools paint an interesting picture. For budget hosting on Bluehost, WP Rocket seriously increases the speed and performance of the website. Statistically, it is superior in most metrics when compared to W3.

On Cloudways, both plugins are much closer together, and in some cases W3 beats out WP Rocket.

The data from Fast Or Slow is also very interesting because there are tons of outliers. In some cases, we have a loading time of 16 seconds, which doesn't seem to be right, while in other cases we have a loading time of 2.0 seconds. Because of this, we probably need to discount the data from this tool. We would use the GTMetrix speed score, and then the PageSpeed speed index as our top comparisons. When looking only at these individual numbers, we get a bit of a clearer picture:

  • WPRocket (Bluehost)| Speed Index: 1.7 |Fully Loaded Time: 2.4 | Requests: 20
  • WPRocket (Cloudways)| Speed Index: 1.97 |Fully Loaded Time: 2.6 | Requests: 20
  • W3 (Bluehost)| Speed Index: 3.3 |Fully Loaded Time: 3.3 | Requests: 24
  • W3 (Cloudways)| Speed Index: 1.9 |Fully Loaded Time: 2.3 | Requests: 26
  • None (Bluehost)| Speed Index: 5.5 |Fully Loaded Time: 2.4 | Requests: 55
  • None (Cloudways)| Speed Index: 2.3 |Fully Loaded Time: 2.9 | Requests: 57

In most cases, WP rocket beats out W3. An important statistic is the number of requests that are made to load the page. Implementing a caching solution (Well, specifically the minification and merging of files) leads to less requests being made, and a quicker loading page. WP Rocket consistently results in less requests being made.

In the case of W3 Total Cache VS WP Rocket, WP Rocket comes out on top in terms of impact on website speed, as well as usability (ease of use). Especially if you are on budget hosting from Bluehost or GoDaddy, this can seriously increase the speed of your website, which results in higher search engine ranking placement and more conversions.

However, W3 offers a lot of features and does also impact the loading time of your website in a positive way. This is a free plugin, compared to the $49.00 WP Rocket.

At the same time, W3 is more confusing and difficult to use, while WP Rocket is easier in every way. Due to this, if you can afford to spend $49.00 on a plugin that will impact the speed of your website (which could definitely lead to a positive return on investment if you increase your conversion rate due to this), we definitely recommend WP Rocket over W3 Total Cache.

Conclusion

To conclude, this article took the two leading caching plugins, WP Rocket (a premium solution) and W3 Total Cache (a free offering) and compare them head-to-head. We took a look at the pricing and general features offered. we then took a deep dive into each of the plugins, analyzing the ease of use, compatibility with our test website, and statistical speed improvements.

From the data, WP Rocket made our websites run quicker (in most situations), and was easier to set up. However, W3 Total Cache still resulted in a noticeable speed impact on our website.

By comparing the pros and cons of each plugin, we came to the conclusion that WP Rocket wins in the caching plugin showdown, as it offers more value to the consumer in simplicity and statistical superiority.

It's also worth noting that both of these plugins are risk free to try. WP Rocket offers a 14 day money back guarantee, and W3 Total Cache is free and installable in one click from the plugin repository. If you really want to determine which solution is the best for you (because every use case and needs are unique), then we recommend downloading each individual plugin, installing it on the website, running benchmarks, and then comparing your data and observations between the two. That way, you can make an informed decision entirely dependent on the results from your own website. In some cases, the free solution will be just fine for you. In others, you may determine that you want to opt for the premium solution due to the simplicity and speed benefits.

Whenever any plugin offers a money back guarantee, we recommend going this route. after all, it's really easy to get the money back if the solution doesn't work for you.

We hope that this article gave you some clarity surrounding the W3 Total Cache VS WP Rocket debate. Currently, all information is up to date as of July, 2020. As each plugin begins to improve and releases major future versions, we will attempt to update this article accordingly. If you would like to request an update, feel free to leave a comment below.

In summary, our recommendation is WP rocket due to the simplicity that it offers. We found that it was much quicker to set up, and ran into no issues on our test website. Because you will end up saving time using this solution, paired with the statistical superiority when it comes to loading time of a website, WP Rocket is the frontrunner.

However, W3 Total Cache did result in a performance increase in your WordPress website (Though it was almost half the speed that WP rocket offered us, and took a lot longer to set up due to a non intuitive user interface). That means that it's better than nothing. If you're unable to afford the cost of WP Rocket, then W3 Total Cache Could be a good solution to integrate in your website.

If you have any questions about W3 Total Cache VS WP Rocket, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. If you liked this type of article, reviewing two major WordPress plugins, you can request more like this as well. We love user feedback, and are receptive to everything that you have to offer.

Good luck in your quest to improve the speed and decrease the loading time of your WordPress website!

Join Our Growing Mailing List Of Design Crazed Individuals

Expertly curated emails that will help you generate more income through good design.

You're in the club 💪.

Something went wrong.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
2 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
trackback

[…] You can read more about this test page, the website set up, and view screenshots of the actual page in this article: https://isotropic.co/w3-total-cache-vs-wp-rocket-2020/ […]

trackback

[…] to speed up your website. It's a caching plugin, but it's also a complete performance plugin. WP rocket allows you to cache your […]

James LePage is the founder of Isotropic Design, a digital agency that builds WordPress websites. I read, write and design constantly!

Social Share

Crafting Stunning Digital Appearances & Assets Out Of New York.
Get In Touch
Syracuse, NY | Charlotte, NC | New York, NY
© 2020 Isotropic, LLC
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram

Join Our Growing Mailing List Of Design Crazed Individuals

Expertly curated emails that will help you generate more income through good design.

You're in the club 💪.

Something went wrong.